Since the early 1940s, chemicals were being used to benefit humanity as a means of eradicating pests throughout the world.
The most common chemical that was being used at the time was DDT, dichloro-diphenyl-trichloroethane, a chemical that was thought to be the pinnacle of human engineering (US EPA 2014). This chemical helped during the wars around that era, protecting soldiers from malaria that was carried by mosquitos and helped European cities by spraying the populations to get rid of the lice that were spreading a serious disease. In the beginning, there seemed to be little concern for human health as DDT was spread throughout the streets, as there were no immediate effects. This led scientists to no longer consider the long-lasting effects of DDT on human health or what it did to other organisms other than insects. One person, in particular, was concerned in the manner that humanity was treating pesticides, and this person was Rachel Carson. In her book ‘Silent Spring’ she brings across the reality of what pesticides are doing to the environment and how most are detrimental to human health.
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Rachel Carson does not only bring up the issue of pesticides but in general the pollution that is currently plaguing the nation. She worked with Game and Fish, and there she joined studies that were looking at how pesticides were contaminating the environment due to them being overused in the area. Rachel Carson was not simply someone that went around spreading nonsense and the thoughts about what should be done, and instead, she presented concrete facts in ‘Silent Spring’ about the lack of regulation on the chemicals that were being used in the environment. But could something that has done nothing, but benefit agriculture be that detrimental? For example, arsenic pesticides came into effect after the Second World war, and arsenic can cause cancer and contaminating environments that would lead to illness in many different organisms. Not only does arsenic cause chronic arsenic poisoning in humans, but it can also contaminate streams and kill any animal or microorganism that would live within that stream.
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DDT, however, did not seem to have any immediate effects that anyone would be able to notice. Studies and surveys were conducted to see the long-term effects of DDT, and some of them are pancreatic cancer, non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma, breast cancer, neurological effects, androgen receptor antagonism and many more. Everyone that came into contact with DDT had a higher risk of these associated diseases than those that were not exposed to the chemical. Also, there was a correlation between infant size based on whether or not they were exposed to DDT through the mother. This correlation showed that infants were born significantly smaller when exposed to DDT. This is because it has been documented that DDT can be transferred through the breast milk of the mother. Once ‘Silent Spring’ was released, the public began the realize the possible health risks, and soon laws were put into place to restrict DDT before eventually it was no longer allowed to be used.
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As time progressed from when Carson released ‘Silent Spring’, multiple studies have been conducted throughout the years of the long-lasting effects of pesticides on the environment and with wildlife. Pesticides are a threat to aquatic biodiversity, as most are extremely toxic to most fish species in the world. The chemicals also can kill large amounts of plankton and periphyton populations, which are primary food sources for young amphibians and certain species of fish. Amphibians are also extremely susceptible to pesticides as they absorb the chemicals through their skin, and with the threat of chytrid fungus and habitat loss across different species, amphibians have been declining for the past several years. Sprays can also make their way toward fish or amphibian nurseries, reducing the reproduction potential significantly.
Pesticides have also been recorded to kill non-target species, due to runoff and drifting as the pesticides are commonly sprayed in the air. A well-known incident with the chemicals came when a neonicotinoid pesticide caused the severe decline in honey bee populations, resulting in concern from the food industry as they relied on honey bees for the pollination of their crops. Now every year since 2006, honey bee populations have dropped by 29-36%. Bird populations have also been on the decline by 20-25%, as the chemicals accumulate in the tissues of the birds. One example of this is the bald eagle population decline that was primarily caused by DDT. Specific quantities of chemicals used as pesticides could change the behavior of certain animals due to affecting their nervous system. As nature is connected, if a chemical causes the decline of a specific population, another population will follow suit. Earthworms’ populations were on a decline due to fungicides, causing the decline of bird and mammal populations.
Rachel Carson had not only been correct about the health issues with pesticides during the time she released ‘Silent Spring’, but she was also correct in stating that the destruction of their environment is not from an enemy and instead ‘The people have done it themselves.’ The most pressing matter on Earth is the issue with climate change from the pollution that continues to be pumped out from large industries. Resources are taken from the land but are ultimately not restored to what they originally were. Humanity has set a course to their extinction from their actions and no longer taking any initiative to fix the issues they have caused. Thousand pounds of carbon are released into the atmosphere, causing the planet to get warmer and warmer each year. Humans have already started to kill off most of the species that are on the planet, and soon resources will follow and there will be nothing left. Humans are their own biggest enemy.
- Carson, R., 1962. Silent spring.
- US EPA, OCSPP. “DDT – A Brief History and Status.” Overviews and Factsheets. US EPA, January 7, 2014. https://www.epa.gov/ingredients-used-pesticide-products/ddt-brief-history-and-status.
- “Rachel Carson | American Experience | PBS.” Accessed October 25, 2019. http://www.pbs.org/wgbh/americanexperience/films/rachel-carson/.
- Longnecker, M. P., W. J. Rogan, and G. Lucier. 1997. “The Human Health Effects of DDT (Dichlorodiphenyltrichloroethane) and PCBS (Polychlorinated Biphenyls) and an Overview of Organochlorines in Public Health.” Annual Review of Public Health 18: 211–44. https://doi.org/10.1146/annurev.publhealth.18.1.211.
- Mahmood, Isra, Sameen Ruqia Imadi, Kanwal Shazadi, Alvina Gul, and Khalid Rehman Hakeem. 2016. “Effects of Pesticides on Environment.” In Plant, Soil and Microbes: Volume 1: Implications in Crop Science, edited by Khalid Rehman Hakeem, Mohd Sayeed Akhtar, and Siti Nor Akmar Abdullah, 253–69. Cham: Springer International Publishing. https://doi.org/10.1007/978-3-319-27455-3_13.